Tuesday 22 May 2018

Cork prop in form and still holding up his side of the scrum

The Big Interview: Stephen Archer

Stephen Archer has put injury problems behind him to play 25 times this season. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Archer has put injury problems behind him to play 25 times this season. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Stephen Archer is about to embark on the unenviable task of scrummaging against a beefy Racing 92 juggernaut.

The Parisians have a scrum that possesses a dynamic French international loosehead prop capable of destroying some of the most capable forward packs in European and world rugby. But the Munster tighthead relishes the challenge.

Eddy Ben Arous and Archer are expected to fight it out for supremacy in the early stages at Stade Chaban-Delmas on Sunday, in an opening half where the French will be desperate to lay down a marker and stretch clear using their colossal resources of power and physicality.

And they will need a head start because Munster also have their own two weapons in the form of John Ryan and Archer on the tighthead side.

One Top14 giant has been felled, now the 30-year-old Cork native is determined to help mastermind another heroic victory - this time on French soil.

"It's a European semi-final and I am really excited now. It is all about making our own legacy this weekend," said Archer.

"There is a bit of pressure on us. Last year we didn't perform to the best of our ability in the semi-final and we lost to Saracens. We have a lot of regrets about that.

"We just want to go out and try and show up. If you show up and you give it your best shot, no matter what the result is, you will be relatively happy and content.

"But we are hopeful we can get the win this time and it's such a big match for everyone involved. We are really looking forward to it, we just want to get going now."

Archer and Ben Arous have already clashed twice this season, when Munster secured a 14-7 win at Thomond Park on 21 October, and a Donnacha Ryan-inspired Racing 92 got their own back in their 34-30 victory at the U Arena in Round 5.

Archer will hope to make it third time lucky in Bordeaux, but he under no illusions of the mammoth task ahead of him and his teammates.

"Ben Arous will probably start, and they also have the likes of Luc Ducalcon who is a good operator, and he started against Toulouse last weekend. They are both good scrummagers and it will be a good battle again.

"We have played them twice this year already so there will be that bit of familiarity with each other, which is great. But Racing are such a big team and a big pack. We just want to make sure we are 100 per cent right ourselves.

"When you are playing a pack that big, it's important that you rely on the other seven fellas around you as well, and the team go in there to play as a unit."

Rallied

The Munster squad have rallied together under new head coach Johann van Graan since the turn of the year. And after they secured a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup they went about securing a place in the PRO14 play-off, which they will play at Thomond Park too.

That all came about after a successful trip to South Africa. Captain Peter O'Mahony was Archer's roommate for the trip, and the Munster tighthead said it was enjoyable tour overall.

"There was definitely a lot of bonding because we were living with each other for the last two weeks. You are living with fellas and everyone gets on well," he said.

Munster hammered Southern Kings 39-22 in George on 7 April and they moved on to Bloemfontein for an even more impressive 19-17 victory over Cheetahs at attitude on the Highveld last weekend.

"We had two tough good matches. The Cheetahs win was a standout. It was training as normal for those matches, as you would for a regular PRO14 match in Limerick. It was definitely a good preparation," said Archer.

"Since we came back, even earlier in the week in Cork, when you went to the shop there was a lot of people wishing you good luck, and wondering how fellas were on the injury front.

"There was a big interest around the place. I met up with a few of the lads for coffee earlier in the week, and Donncha O'Callaghan was there too. He was delighted for us. It's a big week. It's a tough week but you have to try and enjoy it."

And it's been a tough season for Archer, but tough for all of the right reasons. He has staved off any potential injury worries and racked up 25 games for Munster in 2017-18.

""The win over Toulon was the highlight of the season so far. Winning a quarter-final in the dying moments at Thomond Park and Andrew Conway's try was special. The whole day was great," said Archer.

"We had great support. Everyone fronted up. Conway got the plaudits with that unbelievable individual try. But throughout the game fellas were putting their bodies on the line. It was a good shift all around.

"I am pretty happy with my season. Played in most of the games so far. I have been available for all of them, which is good considering I have had no injuries. Delighted, so far so good. I am just looking for a strong finish and hopefully pick up a medal or two along the way.

"It would be massive to get into a European final, it would be the first one for the vast majority of this squad. It would be a huge carrot but you can't look far ahead when you are playing a team like Racing.

"It will be a great weekend and I know from chatting to people there is massive Munster support going over to France as usual.

"That will be a big help, in such a big match, to get us over the line."

Irish Independent

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